For three strange days a few weeks ago (June 1-3) I listened to a Lutheran broadcast on Issues, Etc. about Eastern Orthodoxy. The person chosen for the broadcast was David Jay Webber, a Lutheran minister who has spent some time in Russian-Slav world, along with the host Todd Wilken.
Conservative Lutherans continue to blast Orthodoxy with caricature, half truths and material deployed without sufficient explanation and designed to shock the non-Orthodox, specifically into the conclusion that the Orthodox are barely Christian, if at all. Unfortunately this program was no exception. I have gone through the programs in a separate post above. Here I use some space to give some advice to all of the Lutheran critics.
You have got to stop this kind of argumentation. What I mean is deploying arguments from the outside and really bad ones at that. And by that I mean argument predicated on showing the falsity of a view grounded in assumptions that its advocates would reject. These come in two forms. Either they are specifically dependent on non-Orthodox presuppositions or they are just caricature and straw men. Outsiders rarely understand and can effectively critique a position. As one of my former instructors, Merrill Ring used to note concerning the fall of Logical Positivism, that when the attackers finally entered the castle of Logical Positivism, they found it uninhabited. Its most effective critics were its advocates.
And the Lutherans need to stop for their own good. When critics of a position deploy arguments that are easily answered and/or shown to be based on misunderstanding and caricature, they loose credibility in the eyes of their audience. And if I have learned one thing about apologetics and persuasion it is that without credibility, your arguments aren’t worth very much. You can have perfectly valid and sound arguments for a position but if you lack credibility in the eyes of your audience they won’t give you the time of day. If Lutherans take the arguments like the ones given on the show and get hammered, not only will their confidence in the proponants of such arguments will be greatly diminished, but also their confidence in the correctness of Lutheran theology. This will be the first step to opening their minds up to the possibility to a different theological model and a different way of understanding the Bible.
Furthermore, it makes it much, much easier for me to persuade people of Orthodoxy when I can easily blow through criticisms and show that the critics is really under or misinformed. If you wish to continue the flow of Lutheran converts to Orthodoxy, by all means continue what you are presently doing.
If the Lutherans wish to give criticisms of Orthodoxy that will challenge apologists for Orthodoxy and help retain members of their own fold, they are going to have to do their homework. And this means that they are going to have understand Orthodoxy from the inside out rather than the outside looking in. They will have to present it in such a way that its better advocates will recognize it while bringing out alleged inconsistencies between its fundamental principles or presuppositions. Until they do so, they will always be at a serious disadvantage.
And they need to be aware that they are already at a serious disadvantage from the get go. Orthodoxy is not really familiar to them, and neither are Orthodox reads of history, the fathers and the Scriptures. Orthodox authors are virtually unknown to them beyond the pop stuff like Ware’s book. And let me just get this out of the way. One of the top signs that someone doesn’t know Orthodoxy is that they cite Ware’s book as some be all and end all papal encyclical. This is not to say that the esteemed bishop’s book is bad, but when the Orthodox say we have no pope, we mean it.
Not only is it necessary to present the position one is attacking in a recognizable way, one needs to then construct objections to the effect that there exist within it inconsistent core assumptions. Either one can believe in say the Orthodox view of the Trinity or Chalcedonian Christology, but not both. In either case, Orthodoxy as a whole would be false. The only out of the dilemma would be either to deny Orthodoxy or show that there is some third way, a tertium quid that both can be true. Such would be an effective critique because it would strike at the heart of the system. So far, nothing from Protestant and specifically Lutheran critics of Orthodoxy even comes close.